Our Reading from the pen of James puts the problem of prejudice very pointedly. “My brothers, your faith in our Lord Jesus Christ must not allow for favouritism.” Then he paints a word picture of two men coming into the assembly of Christians. One of them is obviously wealthy, and the other is obviously poor. James insists that they both must be treated alike. In the fellowship of the church, there is no allowable place for social discrimination or class or race distinction of any kind. To prefer one person above another because of wealth, race or sex is to deny the central theme of the Gospel and rob it of all its vitality.
The church was the only place in the ancient world where discrimination between people was not the accepted policy and practice. The temple in Jerusalem had a court for Jewish men, a court for Jewish women, and another court for Gentiles. The women could not enter the court of the men, and the gentiles were forbidden entry into either Jewish courts. Roman society was equally as structured with nobility at the top, then ordinary Roman citizens, then foreigners, and finally slaves.
Into that divided and divisive social order came Christ, teaching that God is Father and all people are brothers and sisters. It became a really difficult task. Everything in society screamed against it. The Jewish Christians found it very painful to mingle with gentile Christians. Slaves and slave owners were terribly uncomfortable seated side by side in worship. But for the church to draw lines of distinction would be a denial of the very message that it proclaimed. We still face the same dilemma today. The message of Christ has not changed. Society has changed but the old policies of discrimination persist. If the church is to be true to the One that it represents we must find practical ways to deal with the problem of prejudice.